“I never went to work one day — it wasn’t work.” Ilasco native Paul Tretiak, 83, enjoys reminiscing about his 50-year career in professional baseball, which began right after completion of his World War II duties in the South Pacific.


“I never went to work one day — it wasn’t work.” Ilasco native Paul Tretiak, 83, enjoys reminiscing about his 50-year career in professional baseball, which began right after completion of his World War II duties in the South Pacific.
His pro ball days began as a second baseman with minor league teams, playing from 1947 to 1954 for teams including the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs. Later he became a coach, scout and/or spring training coordinator for three major league teams, the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers. The final 22 years of his baseball career were with the Brewers, where Tretiak retired nearly 15 years ago after suffering an illness.
Tretiak was reared in Ilasco, the son of the late George and Susan (Bozalka) Tretiak. His three siblings are deceased, and his family includes a niece and nephew. At age 18, George Tretiak immigrated from Slovakia to Ilasco to work at the cement plant.              
Paul Tretiak competed in basketball and track at Ilasco High School, where he graduated in 1944. The school had no baseball team, but he began playing American Legion ball in Hannibal when Lloyd Ragland was in charge.
Tretiak was among the first members of the new Shelbyville Wurlitzers, which was organized in 1941. At age 14, he was the youngest on the team. He was out of school at Ilasco for the team with the blessing of his principal. Tretiak explained the principal, Cleo White, said “I would get an education playing ball.”
Additional members of the Shelbyville Wurlitzers, which won their championship, were Steve Melaga, Lloyd Ragland, Bill Hammond, Ernie Robinson, Marty Arnold, Burger Hayes, Dizzy McPike, Charley Seifert, Charles Graff, Harry Pestell, (unknown) Stoneking, Hank Conley, Charles Fox, Les Fusselman and Bob Volm. Tommy Churchwell was bat boy.

War delays career
After high school Tretiak tried out for the St. Louis Cardinals, and one of the executives wanted to sign him, but “the head guy” did not, because he expected the war to interrupt Tretiak’s career. He was right. Tretiak served with the U.S. Army in the Pacific until 1945, staying in Manila after the war ended because he lacked enough points to come home. He played on a ball team there, which gave him a tent home and plenty of good food, he said.
Before serving in the Army, Tretiak had met a New York Yankees scout who wanted to sign him, but Tretiak did not sign, because “Uncle Sam was knocking at the door. ... But when I got discharged, he remembered me.” He signed Tretiak and Mickey Mantle at the same time, he recalled, adding that “back then the Yankees only had four scouts for the whole country.” Now each team has many scouts, he said, and “there might be eight or nine opinions before someone is signed.”
Tretiak also earned a college education, beginning at Culver-Stockton College, where he played basketball. He changed to Mizzou to play baseball, where he received a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in education administration.
During his minor league days, Tretiak played for the Quincy Gems from 1950 to 1952. At one time he played in a minor league for Mayo Smith, a New London native, whose career has included being manager of several major league teams, such as the Detroit Tigers.
While playing in Independence, Kan., Tretiak’s roommate was (long-time Cardinals’ manager) Whitey Herzog, who became a lifelong friend and is still in touch with Tretiak.
Another friend he stays in contact with is Norm Stewart, former Mizzou basketball coach for whom Norm Stewart Court is named.
Additional friends he keeps up with include Bill Connors, a coach with the Yankees and Bill Spiers, who has retired after playing for the Brewers.
Tretiak explained his duties as spring training coordinator. “In spring training you have one guy that kinda runs the whole show. That was my job, to make sure the pitcher had stuff to do every day, and the infielders and outfielders. I’d set it up, and those people would follow it.”
An article in the Brewers’ official magazine in March 1989 described Tretiak as “one of the best minor league spring training coordinators in baseball.”

Bob Gibson named
“the best pitcher”

Considering the pitchers he faced during his minor league days, Tretiak said Bob Gibson was “the hardest thrower and the best.”
Players he considers among the best in baseball are Stan Musial, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, saying they “will always be among the best who ever played the game.”
Tretiak said he and Musial “would run into each other every now and again,” adding about Musial that, “not only was he a good player, he has always been a good person, showing up for charities and a lot of things.”
Tretiak enjoys showing visitors his two World Series rings, received when he was with different teams. The first was for the 1960 series, when the Pittsburgh Pirates won. His second ring is for the 1969 World Series, won by the New York Mets.
In 1971, Hannibal Courier-Post Sports Editor Ed O’Neill wrote an article about Tretiak, when he was with the Mets and serving as instructor for the Mexico City Devils. O’Neill described all the things Tretiak said a scout looked for in a recruit. He wrote that in summer, Tretiak was the Mets’ scouting supervisor in the south central states, and at other times he was in St. Petersburg, Fla., at the Mets’ minor league training camp, managing their Instructional League team.
Remembering O’Neill’s sports coverage for the Courier-Post, Tretiak said “Ed would go to all the games. Basketball was played outdoors at Ilasco, and Ed would always come in cold weather. That’s why a lot of people liked him. Nobody would ever hear of Ilasco basketball if not for hm.”
After his illness forced Tretiak to retire, he got a nice surprise - while in a hospital in Columbia recovering, he had a conference call from the Brewers. “They got together and called,” he said. “They were all there. It kinda made my day, that the big league guys would call.”
Asked if he would like to see any changes in baseball today, Tretiak displayed his sense of humor, responding, “the only thing I would change is I’d like to have seen 10 million dollars in my pocket when I retired.”
During his 50 years in baseball he traveled constantly, but was too busy to see much of the cities. He did not mind, because he was used to travel, and “that’s what baseball is all about.” He has no regrets about his life, declaring “baseball was it, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”